Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
Maybe I’m just reading these books in real-time—because it has been nearly 3 years since I read The Lives of Tao and about that amount of time has passed in between books. The Deaths of Tao is a worthy sequel, and arguably it’s better than the first book, though I’m not sure I’ll be as enthusiastic about it as I was in my review of The Lives of Tao. I love Wesley Chu’s creativity and enthusiasm, but I’m thinking his style and certain editorial decisions left me a little bored at times.
Roen Tan is still host to the Quasing named Tao. A gaseous alien entity from Quasar, Tao and his kind have literally shaped the course of human evolution and history from the very beginning. Their goal: to advance humanity to the point where they can build a ship that will help the stranded Quasings to return to their home planet. But the warring factions of Prophus and Genjix, the former of which has Tao as a member, have very different ideas about how to go about this. In the first book, Roen becomes acquainted with Tao, and he is transformed from fat IT nerd to deadly assassin and super-spy … sort of. In this book, Roen is separated from the love of his life and mother of his child, Jill, though still kind of obsessed with her. The Prophus are losing their secret war against the Genjix, who are nearing success at replicating the atmosphere of Quasar and thus creating the opportunity for Quasing reproduction. Even more nefarious schemes are afoot, but will the combination of political wrangling and espionage/infiltration be enough to put the Prophus back on top?
Spoilers for both the first book and this one.
I just really don’t like Roen, folx. I know that I lauded his development from unsympathetic to more confident person in the first book, but whatever … he wallows in self-pity here, is not remotely likeable, and he has spent the last year or so stalking his wife despite her making it very clear she wanted nothing to do with him … and yet somehow she ends up deciding she still loves him and so of course they end up together again asglkjgheigjkadgjkl
Sorry, I just need a moment …
There is certainly an appropriate way to do a narrative about a man and a woman separating and then deciding to reunite and parent their child together because they have (mostly) worked out their differences. This is not that appropriate way. I don’t care how much Roen loves Jill, how much he just wants her to be safe: following her all over the world and keeping tabs on her is creepy, not love, and it should not be an endearing discovery that causes Jill to decide maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all.
Roen goes out of his way to be rude to basically everyone else, too, and argue with everyone and act like a hurt manbaby when he doesn’t get his way and people don’t immediately recognize that he is obviously DA BEST person suited for something. Again, maybe Chu is portraying him as unsympathetic deliberately, but I just don’t see that much growth from Roen. It’s obnoxious, and he is not a protagonist I want to be associated with.
Jill is a much better character, albeit with an arc marred by the whole Marco-sexual-tension-subplot, which I really didn’t need. I appreciate seeing elements of the story from the point of view of a political operative rather than a superspy. Jill’s wheeling-and-dealing reminded me of the cutthroat nature of House of Cards. It’s good times.
Strangely enjoyed the Enzo/Zoras chapters as well. I think it was just the fact that Enzo reminds me so much of Roen—so headstrong, so willing to argue with his Quasing—and how he’s basically this little baby who has been raised to believe he’s DA BEST and now that he’s out in the real world, suddenly things are hard, y’all. Though, to his credit, I suppose, he really does come close to neutralizing the Prophus as credible players and he successfully drives the ProGenesis project towards completion. Pretty good work.
Concerns with characterization aside, The Deaths of Tao just feels too long for what I got from it. I was excited for the first part; I trudged through the middle; I started thinking about skimming towards the end. Yes, the climax was compelling, as I watched Jill make the snap decision to out the Quasing to humanity. That alone has made me think I might read the third book—though maybe not in “real time” since it seems that even more years pass between books 2 and 3. Still, I’m not excited by this one.